Opinion: Why 2022 is the year I cut back on the meat and go flexitarian - and why you should too

Daniel Rutledge of Newshub on why 2022 is the year to go flexitarian.
The Impossible Burger from Burger Burger; a mammal regularly eaten by humans. Photo credit: Newshub. / Getty

OPINION: I love meat.

One of my favourite summer activities is spending a few hours tending a charcoal Weber to end up with an incredible steak dinner.

Every few years I get away deer hunting with family and friends. If you've never tasted the venison of a wild New Zealand fallow deer, well, you're missing out on something truly special.

I really do love eating meat a lot. But in this new year, I plan to cut down on the food type dramatically and am presenting the idea to other meat eaters that they do the same.

Why? Because fake meat is finally becoming a sweet as alternative. Seriously.

It's time to question what it is we love about eating meat. If fake meat tastes as good as real meat, has the same texture as real meat and costs the same as real meat, then are we continuing to eat real meat simply for sentimental reasons? If so, is that really justifiable?

As someone who continues to eat meat in today's world with all we know about how bad it is for the environment and animal welfare, not to mention my health, I'm doing so with a constant level of guilt, to one degree or another. 

Veganism, vegetarianism, pescetarianism and other similar meat-free diets are increasing in popularity. I feel I don't need to go into the reasons why this is good as they're so thoroughly well documented and we've all heard them plenty.

Those diets have been made a lot easier in overseas countries due to just how good fake meat has gotten, especially from companies like Impossible and Beyond.

But now that good, good fake meat is available in New Zealand, too - and crucially, it generally doesn't cost more than real meat.

At Burger King you can swap out almost any meat patty for a plant-based 'rebel' alternative at no extra cost. In the burgers where the patties make up most of what you're eating, it's easier to taste the difference; but in most of them - including the signature Whopper - it's barely perceptible, if at all.

Burger King offers plant-based patties in 'rebel' burgers.
Photo credit: supplied/Burger King

It tastes the same to me and costs me the same amount of money - so why would I go with the real meat version of a Whopper? I think nutritionally they're about the same level of (un)healthiness, but whatever; it's the taste, texture and cost that I really care about.

I hope McDonald's, Wendy's, Carl's Jr and the rest of the gang all do this with their menus soon too.

A few years ago I enjoyed the heck out of an Impossible Burger at a Fatburger in Los Angeles, probably my favourite burger outlet in America.

I was thrilled that Impossible came to New Zealand last year. So far I've tried an Impossible mince and cheese pie from Ashby Café, and an Impossible Burger from Burger Burger.

Both taste amazing and if you'd have given it to me and told me it was real meat, I wouldn't have suspected otherwise.

Burgers and pies are among the types of meaty food that should be really easy to swap out the meat for a plant-based alternative. I'd put stir fries and curries in that category too, along with sandwiches and kebabs and wraps - basically any meal where the gravy, sauce or other ingredients imparts just as much or more flavour than the meat itself.

That way it tastes the same as real meat and good-quality, modern, fake meat has the same feel in your mouth as real meat, texture-wise. When that's the case and it costs the same amount as real meat too, then really the one solitary difference is a mental one: The knowledge of what you're eating. 

So why go for the real meat instead? Is it really that important to know that genuine animal flesh is in what you're eating?

For me, it isn't.

An Impossible mince and cheese pie from Ashby Cafe in Auckland.
An Impossible mince and cheese pie from Ashby Cafe in Auckland. Photo credit: Newshub.

The plant-based meat market is going to boom here soon, which means more competition. That means the tech will get more advanced, there will be more options, they'll probably get healthier, cheaper, tastier and even harder to distinguish from real meat.

But it's already good enough - at least for the burgers and pies mentioned above.

So far I haven't tried a plant-based alternative to a steak that's as amazing as an actual steak can be, when done well. But I don't eat amazing steak very often and shall continue to eat it every now and then as a special treat.

Every few years, I hope to be able to continue hunting then eating wild venison, too.

On that - I know a lot of people despise hunting and hunters. It's understandable when you see photos of disgusting yuppies with massive grins standing by a magnificent rhino or other exotic, rare creature they've flown around the world to kill.

I hate those people too. But they're nothing like Kiwis hunting animals that are recognised pests to New Zealand's natural environment to then eat with their families.

And if you're a meat eater who disagrees with even sustainable hunting for game meat, well you can bugger off. Even if you just drink milk or eat any dairy products, yet you have an issue with people hunting either for animal cruelty or sustainability reasons, you're wrong. The commercial farming operations you're supporting are exponentially worse for the environment than hunting pests is, and they generally involve much more cruelty to animals, too.

The odd meal of wild venison or charcoal barbequed Scotch fillet is going to be even yummier as I cut right back the more common meat meals in a move to being flexitarian. Making meat a rarity will also justify spending a bit more on it to make sure when I do, it's always really good stuff.

Hopefully soon I can say goodbye permanently to mince, stir fry meats and the like. I really hope we get even more more decent plant-based versions of that type of thing in supermarkets for nice low prices, in a greater variety, as soon as possible.

Cutting back to eating meat once a week or so isn't going to help the planet as much as going full vegan, for sure.

But it's a bloody good start.

Daniel Rutledge is Newshub's verticals editor.